IAS-Research Talk, Cristina Villegas (UCM, Madrid)


On Tuesday 30 March 2021 at 11:30. To participate, please contact: guglielmo.militello@ehu.eus

“Variational tendencies: development as an ultimate cause”


The separation between ultimate and proximate causes is one of the most classical topics in the philosophy of biology. The ongoing debate over the Extension of the Evolutionary Synthesis (EES) includes a wide variety of philosophical topics, among which is a revision of such separation in the light of new evolutionary research agendas. In particular, it has been argued that some proximate causes, such as the development of organisms or their ecological interactions, play an evolutionary role in the sense that they are a necessary step in evolutionary transformations. While this has partially blurred the distinction between proximate and ultimate causes for local evolutionary changes, it has left relatively untouched the philosophical ideas about general tendencies in evolution, natural selection and chance remaining to be considered the main general driving evolutionary forces. Contrary to this view, in this paper I argue that the variational tendencies studied in evolutionary-developmental biology, or evo-devo, (evolvability, variability, modularity, robustness and plasticity) are ultimate causes in a sense that overcomes the specificities of local evolutionary changes. These properties, studied through genotype-phenotype maps, refer to structural features of how variation is produced in reproduction, and are increasingly being introduced in predictive models of evolution. I defend that these properties are better understood as propensities, analogous to how fitness and drift are usually seen in the philosophy of biology. While they are realized in particular developing systems, they refer to general features shared across taxa and affecting the production of variation in systematic ways, falling into the traditional category of ‘ultimate’ causes. I conclude with some ideas about how this consideration of variational tendencies can affect the notions of chance and contingency in evolution.

IAS-Research Talk, Maël Montevil (Université Paris 1/IHPST)


On Tuesday 16 March 2021 at 11:30. To participate, please contact: guglielmo.militello@ehu.eus

“Integrating entropy, constraints closure, and historicity to understand anthropogenic disruptions”


The term “disruption” is commonly used in the literature to describe anthropogenic damages on ecosystems and life cycles. However, this notion has not been conceptualized and theorized as such. Here we will focus on the specific case of plant-pollinators networks and their disruption by climate change. We will show that the analysis of these situations requires integrating constraints closure and historical reasoning. Moreover, entropy enters the picture in a new way: its coarse-graining is defined by constraints closure. This framework leads to an initial account of disruption in biology: disruption as a loss of historical singularity impacting constraints closure.

IAS-Research Talk, Emilio Caceres (UNED)


On Tuesday 9 March 2021, at 11:30. To participate, please contact: guglielmo.militello@ehu.eus

“Autoorganización como propiedad de nivel. Una visión reduccionista no eliminativista de la perspectiva organizacional” [The presentation will be in Spanish]


El comportamiento de los sistemas complejos se ha abordado en muy diferentes disciplinas desde enfoques que apelan a la autoorganización como una propiedad clave de ciertas entidades. Una de las propuestas actuales más influyentes se basa en la idea de cierre organizacional, esto es, un tipo de organización característico de entidades como los seres vivos en el que puede identificarse un cierre de constricciones que da lugar a propiedades con poderes causales que determinan el automantenimiento. Estas propiedades son consideradas usualmente como emergentes. En este trabajo se defiende que,
aunque esta idea de cierre organizacional tiene una valiosa capacidad explicativa, no conlleva necesariamente la asunción de un emergentismo ontológico. Desde una perspectiva que parte de la noción de cuasi-descomponibilidad de Herbert Simon, en este trabajo se desarrolla una caracterización de la idea de cierre organizacional como principio explicativo compatible con una interpretación ontológica reduccionista, en tanto en cuanto no precisa de la postulación de propiedades emergentes, pero también epistemológicamente no eliminativista, pues entiende que la noción de cierre de constricciones tiene un irrenunciable valor heurístico para el discurso biológico.

IAS-Research Talk, Cristian Saborido’s (UNED) presentation of his book “Filosofía de la Medicina” (in Spanish)

On Tuesday 26 January 2021 at 11:30.

To participate, please contact guglielmo.militello@ehu.eus


¿Qué es la salud? ¿Qué criterios se utilizan para identificar y clasificar las enfermedades? ¿De qué forma se debe conjugar la perspectiva de los médicos con la de los pacientes? ¿Existen realmente las enfermedades mentales? A la consciencia de que tenemos una naturaleza frágil le acompaña la esperanza de que podemos tomar medidas para combatir el sufrimiento y postergar la amenaza de la muerte. A lo largo de los siglos y en todas las culturas nos hemos esforzado por identificar, prevenir y tratar de revertir aquellos estados corporales que consideramos molestos o peligrosos, lo que ha dado lugar a esa particular síntesis de ciencia y arte a la que llamamos medicina. Con un lenguaje accesible y cercano, esta obra demuestra que la medicina es un objeto de estudio ineludible para la filosofía. A través de la descripción de casos médicos concretos, del recurso a ejemplos históricos, e incluso de la alusión a diferentes productos de la cultura popular como el arte, el cine o la televisión, se analizan críticamente las cuestiones que conforman la emergente filosofía de la medicina, al tiempo que se ofrecen herramientas conceptuales para comprender qué asunciones presupone y qué consecuencias implica la práctica médica.

IAS-Research talk (online), Matteo Mossio (CNRS & Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne), “On why biological autonomy cannot live without closure”

Tuesday, the 15th of December 2020, 11:30 (Central European Time)

To participate, please contact: guglielmo.militello@ehu.eus


In this talk, I examine the role of organizational closure within the theory of biological autonomy. Many authors, as Piaget, Maturana, Varela, Rosen and Kauffman in the 20th century, have elaborated on closure as a distinctive feature of biological systems, notably in connection with thermodynamic openness. In essence, my claim is that there is no biological autonomy without closure, for fundamental theoretical and philosophical reasons. Autonomy cannot live without closure. Yet, substantial work is still to be done to show how organizational closure can contribute to explain crucial  biological phenomena, many of which are addressed by the Outonomy project. I discuss in a preliminary way how closure can take up the challenge.

IAS-Research Talk (Online), Andrea Gambarotto (UC Louvain), “The Varieties of Kantian Teleology: A Contemporary Assessment”, 01/12/2020, 11:30

To participate, please contact: guglielmo.militello@ehu.eus


This paper addresses the ways in which Kant’s transcendental views concerning the intrinsic purposiveness of living organisms have been translated into naturalist territory by contemporary philosophy of biology. We critically evaluate the interpretive challenges posed by such endeavours and provide a tentative classification of the various approaches which have been proposed for applying Kant’s ideas today. We first delve into exegetical questions concerning the notions of mechanism and teleology, along with those of constitutive and regulative principles. We then distinguish three approaches to making Kant relevant today, each of which is characterized by a specific idea regarding what is useful about his perspective on teleology. We define those as heuristic, synthetic, and revisionist approaches respectively.

PhD Scolarship 2020-2024: expression of interest is now OPEN

We have been awarded a scholarship for a PhD student to develop her/his PhD with us on the topics of the research project entitled “OUTONOMY: fleshing out autonomy beyond the individual”. We are searching for a dedicated, smart, philosophically minded, technically skilled and collaborative person willing to start a research career with us. Deadline to submit your expression of interest is October 10th!

It is an FPI doctoral scholarship for Research project OUTONOMY, at IAS-Research Center for Life, Mind, and Society, UPV/EHU (University of the Basque Country). It would cover a 4 year salary to complete a PhD thesis on the contents of the project starting late 2020. You can know more about the research project OUTONOMY on our blog post, or by reading the project description document.

If you are interested on this scholarship, please follow the link bellow:

Please help us sharing and promoting this scholarship call. Many brilliant and enthusiastic students are searching for funding opportunities, we are searching for brilliant and ethusiastic students.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is not the final nor the official call or application, but an expression of interest. The final form will be announced to all selected participants in this pre-call, open to anyone (independently of this expression of interes), and officially managed by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation. The official call will be open sometime between mid October and November (you can check here last years call to be ready for the paperwork). The goal of this form is to encourage students to move forward towards the final application and for us to know some of the candidates in advance. It is highly recommended that you fill this form if you are planning to submit for the official application (which is run in a less friendly and massive procedure within the public administration). We want to know you better first.

OUTONOMY project: Fleshing out autonomy beyond the individual


We are happy to announce that the Outonomy (“Fleshing out autonomy beyond the individual”) project got officially funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation. The project is co-lead by Leonardo Bich and Xabier E. Barandiaran.

As part of this project we got awarded with a PhD Scholarship. Please help us find and match the best candidates by sharing this link to our pre-application call: https://www.ias-research.net/?p=4525

Project summary and main research lines

The project aims to expand theories of autonomy beyond classical conceptions of the individual by including integrative, relational, collective and environmental dimensions into it.

The concept of autonomy, understood as the capacity of a system to set up and follow the norms of its own functioning, is of central relevance to contemporary science and society. Recently, the increasing acknowledgement of the deep interconnectedness, mutual dependence and multi-scale embeddedness of several natural and social phenomena, has directly challenged the very idea of autonomy, together with those of individuality and identity, and the possibility of its applications to scientific and social challenges.Building on top of 25 years of philosophical and trans-disciplinary research at the IAS-Research Center for Life, Mind and Society of the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), centred on a naturalized theory of autonomy in biological and cognitive sciences, this project aims to expand theories of autonomy beyond classical conceptions of the individual by including integrative, relational, collective and environmental dimensions into it.

To do so the project pursues 4 main goals:

1- To develop an account of integration in autonomous systems, as an organizational principle to understand how ‘physiological’ cohesiveness emerges within and across systems.

2- To understand how inter-actions between autonomous systems can give rise to supra-individual or collective forms of autonomy and how these can alter the autonomy of the former.

3- To investigate the extension of autonomous systems into their environment (from prebiotic scaffolds to technology) to achieve viability and coordinate regulatory self-governing processes.

4- To address the issue of sustainability (at different scales) of new eco and socio-ecological systems emerging from previously independent autonomous systems.

In order to achieve these trans-disciplinary goals, the methodology involves naturalist conceptual analysis and synthesis based on an active dialogue with empirical research, computational and mathematical models and scientific theories. The profiles of the 5 research team members in philosophy of science, philosophy of biology and complex systems is complemented by an international work team of 24 collaborators including social scientists, computer modellers, network and data analysts, biologists and environmental scientists.

If you want to know more about the project, we recommend you read and download our project description document by clicking on the image below:

You can follow the project updates on ResearchGate at the following link: https://www.researchgate.net/project/OUTONOMY-Fleshing-Out-Autonomy-Beyond-the-Individual

IAS-Research Talk (Online) by Laura Nuño de la Rosa’s (Complutense University of Madrid): “Interviews on evolvability: reconstructing and explaining the recent history of evolutionary biology”

Tuesday, 23/06/2020, at 11:30.

To participate, please contact: guglielmo.militello@ehu.eus


In my presentation, I will present the results of a series of interviews to evolutionary biologists I have conducted throughout this academic year, in the frame of the project “Evolvability: a new and unifying concept in evolutionary biology”, which has taken place at the Center for Advanced Studies, Norwegian Academy of Arts and Letters. These interviews cover many different topics on theoretical debates and interdisciplinary relationships in evolutionary biology, but in this talk, I will focus on some insights I believe can be gained on the recent history of evolutionary theory. In particular, I will reflect on different causal hypotheses that might explain the explosion of the interest, in the mid-1990s, in the internal capacities of biological systems to evolve. In order to do so, I will use several conceptual tools from evolutionary theory itself that, as I hope to show, can be fruitfully applied to the history of science. 

IAS-Research Talk (Online) by Derek Skillings (University of North Carolina at Greensboro): “Can host-microbiome systems be healthy? Shaping ecosystems vs curing disease”

02/06/2020, at 16:00

To participate, please contact: guglielmo.militello@ehu.eus

ABSTRACT: Host-associated microbiomes play a variety of important roles in host health and disease. Attempts to understand and make predictions about complex host-microbiome interactions have led many researchers to talk about microbiomes—especially human-associated ones—in terms of being either healthy or dysbiotic. In this presentation I will look at some alternatives for making sense of “healthy microbiome” talk. I will argue that existing “naturalistic”, or non-evaluative, accounts of human health are not appropriate for microbiomes, and that notions of ecosystem health face similar shortcomings. These problems suggest that “microbiome health” might only be definable in evaluative terms and may never extend beyond a metaphor to organismal health. I will end by looking at some possibilities for understanding overall host health given the importance and ubiquity of microbiomes.